Image by John Garrison
A decade ago, a mysterious caller from Canada lead Australian radio DJ Amber Petty on an epic catfishing expedition. Now, they speak for the first time since.
To start at the beginning of this story, listen to: Gotcha! Part One.PLAYLIST
Artist – Title – Album
Solvent – A Product Of The Process – Subject to Shift
Emily A. Sprague – Moon View – Hill, Flower, Fog
Emily A. Sprague – Woven – Hill, Flower, Fog
Tiziano Popoli – Mimetico Erettile – Burn the Night / Bruciare la Notte: Original Recordings, 1983–1989
Nick: Hey there, it’s Nick. A quick note before we start the show, this is a follow-up to our episode ‘Gotcha’. I highly recommend listening to that one first before continuing here. You should be able to find it right next to this episode in your feed. Thanks.
Speaker 2: Previously, on Love and Radio.
Radio Male Pres…: Hey, Sarah?
Sarah: Uh, yeah?
Radio Male Pres…: This has been a Gotcha call!
Amber: She just had this voice.
Sarah: Hi, Amber.
Amber: Sort of fell in love with this young, cute 26 year old.
Sarah: [Radio] What’s going on? They’re like, well, your breast cancer.
Amber: In the week before Sarah died, she had sent an email to me, introducing me to her best friend, Sara Kelly.
Sara: The memorial was pleasantly chaotic today.
Amber: I felt like we had this very easy, no bullshit chemistry.
Sara: So I’m a hundred percent coming to Australia.
Amber: What would you do if you found out Sara was actually Sarah? And then just suddenly it was like this bomb went off inside me.
Amber: Oh my God.
Amber: When I found her on Facebook, all I can think is, “who the hell are you to just be sitting there?” I would like to see her truly vulnerable. And
I would like control of getting the answers to the real story, not the bullshit.
Nick: From Luminary, you’re listening to Love and Radio. I’m Nick van der Kolk. Today’s episode, ‘Gotcha, Part Two’, featuring Sarah.
Sarah: Hi. How are ya?
Amber: Good How are you? I’m just moving so you can… I don’t know whether you’ve got your thing on, but I’m just…
Amber: Last year, 2019, I was just sitting on my bed, and then an email popped through and it was from Sarah.
Amber: What time is it there?
Sarah: 20 to 12, almost midnight.
Amber: No different if it was someone that catfished you 10 years before than someone that you haven’t seen that you went to school with.
Sarah: So how are you? You’ve had a rough week?
Amber: Yeah, yeah. It was a pretty intense week. Well, it was a good week…
Amber: Then I really… I can’t remember exactly how we got into about how we knew each other.
Amber: I just want to know what the true, honest motivation with you stepping forward and making contact with me now, as opposed to a year ago, two
years ago, five years ago, that kind of thing.
Sarah: One of the things I’ve learned in the last 10 years is that the past can’t hurt me anymore, because it’s there, and I can’t change the past. I
can only move forward and acknowledge what happened as well as make amends. And a lot of people that hear, they think, “Oh, that’s AA speak. Amends just
means you have to say, you’re sorry”, but that’s not true. Amends is, you’re actually amending your behavior.
Sarah: And for me to amend my behavior, to do better and to be better, and in a way reaching out to you was me wanting to be like, “I owe this person
Sarah: And I am more than willing to have… that’s why I said, yeah, absolutely, we can chat and ask all the questions you want. I think it’s
something not only that you deserve, but that I want to be able to provide answers to unknown questions, even if it’s for the rest of my life. I’m
absolutely open to that.
Amber: I really appreciate that.
Sarah: Let’s rip this bandaid off.
Amber: Yes, exactly…
Sarah: Hang on. How do I… Am I on?
Nick: You are, hello. Amber, you look like a little bit of Vaseline was put over your camera. So everything looks sort of hazy, like…
Amber: Okay, sorry.
Nick: How are you, Sarah?
Sarah: I’m good. It was beautiful hearing… I’m a smoker. So I’m going to smell.
Nick: So do you remember when you first came across Amber’s radio show? What did you make of it?
Sarah: It was not like a, “Hey, how are ya?” And then like, “wah wah”, you know? It was something out of the Simpsons, pretty much. [sound effects] Sound effects, and the “Ay! How are we doing now?” And I was like, this is so over the top, it’s ridiculous.
Nick: Did you think it was lame?
Sarah: Lame, but you know when you find something so late and you’re like, it’s just too funny.
Radio Male Pres…: Your name is Candy. You’re a gentleman…
Sarah: You weren’t listening for like, “Oh my God, this is so funny, I’m really enjoying myself”. It’s like, all right, let’s listen to the car crash.
I don’t think I’m far off Amber, I’m sorry.
Amber: No, it was Dickhead FM. [radio clip]
Nick: When did the idea first enter your mind that you would participate in some way?
Sarah: I just kind of did it for shits and giggles. Just like, ah, well, I’m bored, and I thought, what the hell? Why not?
Radio Male Pres…: Hello?
Radio Male Pres…: This is Colin from the Australian immigration…
Nick: And then when did you actually call in? What was that experience like?
Sarah: I just played the game.
Radio Male Pres…: First up, Sarah, how old are you?
Sarah: I am 26 years old.
Sarah: It was like a bit of a tennis match.
Radio Male Pres…: And your occupation?
Sarah: I played the [noise], unknowing…
Sarah: I’m a yoga instructor.
Radio Male Pres…: How would you rate Blaine’s downstairs area?
Sarah: …airhead type of thing.
Amber: Can you not be rude about that Sarah? She was not… Yeah, sorry, stop there. I’m very protective of the original Sarah, thank you. She’s a very
Sarah: Thank you.
Amber: So I guess, just a basic question that has plagued me for 10 years about all this is literally, who was this girl and why did she do all of this
Sarah: A lot of that stuff I just genuinely don’t remember or I’m blacked out from, or… I was at a horrible place in my life. And my drug use was at
an all-time high. I would start fights. I would binge drink. I loved cocaine, oh my God, I loved cocaine.
Sarah: When I was in Halifax at a bar there, we were on the patio upstairs and everything was fine. Everything was great. And then this girl just
looked at me, and I don’t know why, but I just snapped. And everyone at the table was like, what the fuck’s your problem? Because I was mouthing off to
her, going, “what’s your problem? What are you looking at? You want to start something? Because I’ll fucking finish it”.
Sarah: I called it a rollercoaster. Because that’s what my life was. And sometimes the mania, so the high part of it, that could last an hour, or that
could last weeks. So the highs, you’re seeing clouds and everything is great and you’re perfect, and there’s nothing you can do that’s wrong. And then
the lows, I am such a piece of shit, why am I even alive? Who would even want to share the same oxygen with me? That low. You can’t even get out of bed.
You seriously lay in bed and you’re like, I don’t know if I should get up and go to the bathroom or just sit here and lay in my own filth.
Amber: So you decided to say that Sarah had stage four breast cancer.
Sarah: [Radio] What’s going on? They’re like, “well, with your breast cancer”. And I was like, that’s not funny.
Amber: Did you choose that because you just thought that’s going to be an uncomplicated, no-one’s going to ask me questions, we all know that that’s
potentially, it’s game over?
Sarah: I don’t know if I put that much thought into it.
Sarah: [Radio] I had an appointment the next day, so I went in and I was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.
Sarah: I just didn’t like it anymore. It wasn’t giving me anything and it was becoming like a job type of thing… I know that’s horrible.
Radio Male Pres…: [Radio] What’s the long-term prognosis for you, Sarah?
Sarah: So as egocentric as it may sound, I was just like, you need to leave me the fuck alone. It kind of had to be like, I had to kill her off so it
Sarah: [Radio] Sorry. I’ll be happy to see April.
Sarah: But then as my highs started to happen a while later, I’m like, okay, well, here we go again. I didn’t want the attention to stop, and then
created a new character, which was the best friend.
Sara: I know you don’t know me, but if you feel like venting in an email, I’m here if you need it.
Sarah: And I didn’t know if that was going to work because I used the same name.
Sara: All the best, Sara.
Amber: Well, it was spelled different.
Sarah: I dropped an H.
Amber: When you look at that story, it appears that you were devising that going, “I’m going to get some money out of this. I’m going to get an
explosion of sympathy that could result in money”.
Sarah: No. That was not even on my radar.
Radio Caller: I would like to donate some of my Christmas money, if I could.
Radio Caller II: I’d like to donate a thousand dollars.
Female Presente…: Oh, Elise, that is so generous.
Radio Caller II: Well, what goes around, comes around.
Amber: But how do you sit with the money that was taken from all those people? And it was never…
Sarah: It’s disgusting. It was disgusting. It was horrible. And I can’t do anything to take that back.
Amber: Are you all right, Sarah?
Sarah: Yeah. It’s just like, it’s hurting. It’s more of a… I manipulated so many people, and I’m not saying this to excuse anything I did, and I’m
not saying because I have mental health issues that it makes anything I did okay, and it’s not an excuse, but I’m sitting here, and I’m hearing all
this, and I’m like, God, I was so fucking sick. I was so fucking sick.
Sarah: And you don’t know it. You don’t know it, you think that’s just life. I look at myself today, and I sponsor women now. People come to me for
life advice and how to live their life in a better way. And I don’t mean for this to sound self-serving or as giving me a pass by anything, by any
means. I can’t keep beating myself up about it. You know, I did it. I am truly sorry that I allowed myself to do that, regardless of mental health, or
this, or that, or alcoholism, addiction, those are the things that were happening in my life, but that doesn’t mean… That doesn’t make it okay. At
all. It doesn’t make it okay.
Amber: You know…
Sarah: I’m just going to take a second, okay?
Amber: [inaudible 00:14:06].
Sarah: Ooh, okay. Sorry about that.
Nick: No, you’re fine.
Sarah: What’s that? Have another cigarette. Well, if you insist. Oh, fuck me.
Sarah: Hey, how are ya?
Nick: Good, how’s it going?
Sarah: Oh, just. Living the dream. Being all domestic and shit.
Nick: So you got into recovery in 2011. I’m just trying to get the timeline…
Sarah: No, in 2010.
Nick: What was it that made you realize that needed to do that?
Nick: Yeah. It was an attempted suicide?
Sarah: Several, several attempts. Yeah. Leaving food out for the dogs and… Yeah.
Sarah: When I got back from Australia I spiraled hard and ended up at Homewood Treatment Center, and was there for addiction, and also mood disorders.
Nick: Do you remember your first diagnosis? How was it presented to you?
Sarah: You sit in a room with this team of doctors. They said, “we find that you’re bipolar, and this is what that means, and…”
Nick: What does that mean, actually?
Sarah: I remember feeling very offended and very, “I’m not crazy what the fuck is wrong with them?” I was only an alcoholic. And so we had a meeting
set for three days later, and during those three days, I became obsessive. Going to the library to go online, to look up bipolar and what it means, and
who else has bipolar, and what is this, and what else could I try to diagnose myself? Because my ego was so big at that time, I was going to go online
and find out what else I could possibly have and tell them what it was. Because I didn’t want to accept that I had a mental illness.
Sarah: For me, being in the center of the hurricane, that was my world coming down crashing. And I didn’t want to be diagnosed with that. And I was
reacting out of some fear-based emotion.
Nick: When you talk about so much of it was fear, what was it fear of?
Sarah: Fear of not being good enough, fear of not being liked. What if I don’t get a job, am I going to be a lonely woman with 87 cats that kids are
afraid to go to at Halloween?
Nick: Do you have a sense of where that fear developed initially?
Sarah: Growing up in social housing and being a product of my environment, I think really led to where I went to mentally. The street that I grew up on
is still one of the roughest places in Toronto today. But it’s weird, I feel safer walking down that street by myself today than anywhere else in the
world. But I think it’s just because I grew up there.
Sarah: There’s so many things for me that I learned in recovery that were not normal. I remember when I spoke to my therapist one of the first times,
and I was like, “you know, like that little closet that you hide in to hide away from everything, to not get hit or shot. You know, like everyone”. And
she’s like, “no, not everyone has that”.
Sarah: When I was a kid, to avoid abuse or sexual assault… babysitters used to… sexual assault for me started when I was about four or five. And I
just remember having this closet – that was the way the apartment was, there was a closet, you’d open the door and there was a closet, and then there
was a nook behind it for, I don’t know, shoes or whatever. And that used to be my spot that I used to hide. So even when you opened up the closet
quickly to look for someone, unless you look around that corner, you don’t see it.
Nick: And the abuse was coming from the sitters? Or…
Sarah: I remember there was the guy with the Elvis hair. And that was the main guy who did everything.
Sarah: I can’t speak for anyone else. When it happens at such a young age, you just … that’s your normal, right?
Nick: I weirdly get the sense it’s almost easier for you to talk about that period in your life than it is the whole Australian episode.
Sarah: Because that was my life. That was real life for me. That was my real life. There was no actively hurting someone. Yes, I made choices back
then, but that wasn’t of my own doing. Meanwhile, this whole thing with Australia was all my own doing, all my own initiation.
Barry: I heard a story about how some morning radio DJs in Australia and Canada got pranked by either you or someone else named Sarah about 10 or 12
Nick: I guess it was Barry first reached out to you. What was it like getting that message?
Sarah: It felt like a sucker punch. There are some stories, there’s those lifetime movies or those documentaries you see of people who go on living
their life after they started a new life, and then their life catches up with them, their past catches up with them? And I remember watching those
moments, even to this day, I’m like, ugh.
Sarah: [Phone call]. I think you have the wrong person.
Nick: Your instinct at that moment is just make it go away.
Nick: There wasn’t a piece of you that was like, maybe if I just [inaudible 00:21:40].
Nick: Could you tell me a little bit more about the career you have now and the work you’re doing now? What’s your profession? What do you do?
Sarah: I do office administration at a health center.
Nick: What does that mean?
Sarah: Paperwork. Billings. Making sure people get paid.
Nick: It sounds like you have access to a lot of personal information from people, is that accurate?
Nick: Some people hearing that might be a little concerned.
Sarah: I can understand that. And what I can say to that is, I am a very different person than I was back then.
Nick: I don’t want to… I mean, obviously my main interest is in what happened in Australia, but I’ve been dying to ask you, does the name Kimberly
[bleep] mean anything to you?
Nick: She posted to Facebook looking for you, with your picture, and she claims that she paid you $7,000 to write a bunch of farming grants, and then
disappeared. And she says she’s been trying to get in touch with you.
Sarah: I know there was a man who got pissed off because I wrote two grants for him but the grant didn’t come through. If it’s the man’s daughter, I
can’t remember her name, because it was two years ago. I dealt mainly with him.
Nick: She claims that she never received any confirmation that the grants were even sent.
Sarah: Well, her dad did.
Sarah: He was the one that signed everything. I can’t deal with someone and hand over personal information to someone who I haven’t spoken to, right?
Who I’m not in business with. Is this going into the show?
Nick: I don’t know what is going into the show and isn’t at this point, I’m just trying to find out more information. But I can explain why I bring it
up. And I bring it up because in our conversations you’ve painted this story of the state of mind that you were in at the time, and doing this thing,
you’re totally copping to what you did in Australia. And then the story is that you came home and very soon afterwards got into recovery and moved past
it quite quickly. And then when there are these incidents that pop up… it’s hard not to… I’m sorry?
Sarah: You said I moved past it quite quickly. What does that mean?
Nick: That’s just the sense that I’ve gotten from you in terms of that you came home from Australia, you went into recovery for a couple of years, and
you’ve keeping your nose clean since then…
Sarah: Oh no, I’ve made mistakes. I’ve told Amber about all that kind of stuff.
Nick: Okay. So your view is, this is just bad luck? Is that your view? Or…
Sarah: I think the grant thing is just a shitty circumstance with someone who may not have explained everything to their family.
Nick: Do you feel like you could have handled it differently? Or did it…
Sarah: No, because I didn’t do anything wrong.
Sarah: Well that’s the least fine ‘fine’ I’ve ever heard.
Barry: Hey Sarah. So I know you were kind of on the fence about speaking with me today, so I basically just wanted to leave you a voicemail and let you
know the things that I want to talk about with you, and you can decide whether or not you wanted to respond to them.
Barry: It’s really two things. First of all, it’s been kind of a while since we last spoke. And I was just curious if there had been any updates on
your end. The other thing is that I just wanted to tie up a loose end. The last conversation that we had, we talked a bit about Kimberly, and where we
had left things is you had claimed that you could not communicate with Kim because the deal that you made was with her father.
Barry: Now, I communicated that with her and she said that’s not at all true, both she and her father were trying to get in touch with you. And right
after we got off the phone, she forwarded me, in a fairly short amount of time, a number of emails from her father’s email address to you that had gone
Barry: Now, I want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Given all of this information, it’s difficult for me to conclude anything except that you haven’t been honest with me about what went down with you and Kimberly. And what went on between you and her family, it’s none of my business, but the
reason that I think it’s important is because if you are going to be dishonest with me, then it does become my business. Because I want to get at what
is the truth of what happened between you and Amber. And if you can’t even be honest about this, then it throws into question everything else.
Barry: And listen, I don’t think that you’re a bad person. I think that you clearly have instincts that can be quite harmful, not just to other people,
but to yourself. And I wish I could end things on less of an ambivalent note. But, man, I just wish you had been more upfront with me. And that’s all I
wanted to say.
Barry: So, like I said, if you want to get back in touch with me, that’s fine. If you want to leave things as they are, that’s obviously your decision
to make, but you know how to reach me. All right, thanks.
Amber: I’m sorry, this girl should not be doing hospital fucking admin, where she has access to every Joe Blow’s details. I’m sorry. To me, that’s like
inviting a fucking alcoholic to a fucking winery. Do you know what I mean?
Nick: So if you were to go down the list, what are the things that you do believe, and what are the things that you don’t believe?
Amber: I do believe that she’s trying to be a better person, but I don’t believe that she is in charge of how that plays out. Sarah conveniently
hasn’t, or genuinely doesn’t have a lot of memory about the detail of this time, but I remember a lot of stuff. Like, I remember people crying, I
remember people that shouldn’t have been ripped off.
Amber: I understand what it’s like to have mental health issues and to not be living a good life, to be your own worst enemy. So I have a lot of compassion for her for that, because I think that is something that is still present in her life, and will be something that she will always sort of
have to deal with.
Amber: I do also see, though, that there are areas where, consciously and unconsciously, she plays with the truth. What is her truth? And I think it’s
guided from this place of “I’m a good person”, but it doesn’t make all of it real. To be honest, I know there’s all the detail that I thought that I really wanted to know. And maybe I did need to at least ask her those questions, but I never really got any answers. Which also, I guess, reminds me
that I don’t [inaudible 00:30:56] that’s the great thing. I’m a completely different person now.
Amber: And I do know that the likes of you, more recently the journalist in Adelaide, I know they’ve been knocking on her little social media doors. And I know that this bitch isn’t going away, is in her head. That’s the starting point. Do I think that that has fairly quickly turned into a genuine
concern for me? Yeah, I do. Because as I said, I think there is a good heart in there. Number one, I hope she pats herself on the back for what she has
done with this. But number two, I hope she acknowledges there was a whole lot of stuff that I withheld and I wasn’t quite truthful. Okay. Let’s move
forward and try and do the next bit of good work for myself. Because she deserves to be more peaceful. She deserves to be more peaceful. You know?
Amber: I mean, that is me being genuine. There’ll always be the other side of me where, you know… fucking do the right thing. Just stop being full of
shit, you know what I mean? So that final speech was very honest, but the other side of me just says, stop bullshitting and get on with it, I’m not a
fuckwit anymore. So that’s about it really.
Amber: Thank God it’s over, really. Seriously. We need to have a party just about that. When the episode’s out, even if it’s me having a couple of
beers at 10:00 AM, we’ve got to do that, because just to know… [inaudible 00:32:37].
Nick: …But then Rabbit’s going to get in touch and we’re going to have to do a third one.
Amber: In Rabbit’s eyes.
Amber: Sarah, Rabbit, Sara, Blaine…
Nick: That’ll be the real twist, Blaine comes back in the end. He was real all along.
Amber: Oh, fuck, don’t. You know what? I’m going to be busy that day. I’m fucking done, I don’t care.
Nick: That’s it for Love and Radio. On this episode, you heard the voices of Amber Petty and Sarah. It was produced by Nicki Stein and Phil
Dmochowski. If you want to hear more about the story, Amber Petty’s written a book called ‘This is Not a Love Song’. You can check it out at
amberpetty.com.au. For more information about the music we feature on the show, stunning episode art and transcripts, please visit our website, loveandradio.org. Love and Radio’s producer is Phil Dmochowski, Stephen Jackson is our contributing editor, we are brought to you by Luminary and made possible thanks to its subscribers. Thank you. I’m Nick van der Kolk. Thanks for listening.
Nick van der Kolk, Host and Director
Nicki Stein, Producer
Phil Dmochowski, Producer